When I was a kid , the math teacher told us that the shortest distance between two points was the straight line .Later on , when I started my aviation career as a student in the US , my instructor explained to me that the main reason that aviation exist is to save time on the travel between two points , and , except for serious and real reasons ( weather , obstacles , navigation equipments , … ) , the straight line was the best way to go from A to B and to use aircrafts efficiently ( less time = less fuel = less money = more efficient ) .
Later on , when I was a student air traffic controller at Eurocontrol , my teacher told us the reason why Air Traffic Controllers exist is to help and support pilots in theirs flying duties by being theirs ears and eyes to separate them in a busy airspace , but also to help them whenever required .
I remember that , when ever a military restricted airspace was deactivated or , after coordination with the military controllers , we were fast and proud to give direct routes to the aircrafts , saving them time , fuel and money .
It was a nice job and a nice goal , to help those guys in the cockpit , to be a part of a system that will make their live easier and safer , and whenever required , provide assistance in case of problem or emergency , always in a calm and friendly way .
The regulation , which we had to learn by heart , and express the above , can be found in the Doc 4444 from ICAO “ Rules of the Air and Air Traffic Services” 1. Definitions page 1-3. para Air traffic control service, in the first pages of definition :
Air Traffic Control Services : A service provided for the purpose of :
1 . Preventing collisions between aircraft , and on the maneuvering area , between aircraft and obstructions , and
2 . Expediting and maintaining an orderly flow of air traffic .
To be able to work , the ATC system is based on a set of rules that are set and recognized internationally , one of them is that the organization and the structure of the national airspace of a country must be published and accessible to all users ( local users and international users ) and it has been set that the only legal document covering it is the civil AIP of each country and through NOTAM system for new or non permanent changes .
But , due to its volume ( two to five folders A4 size ) , to its difficulty to be accessible ( you need to subscribe well in advance and spend a lot of time up-dating it , and it is not really available for GA pilots starting they journey from small airfield or from outside the country ) , and to its complexity ( there is a ton of useless information for the normal needs of a trip ) , most of the developed countries has developed , accepted and certified tools to make the live of pilots and controllers easier and safer ( Bottlang, VFR charts , Airport Facility Directories , …) which are all in a small practical format which you can take with you in the cockpit and are updated regularly to be always current .
So , last week , I had a normal flight request from Kiourka Heliport to Zakinthos airport ( LGZA ) and back to drop some passengers and back with one .
After the normal preparation of the flight ( W&B , requests from the passengers , fuel requirements , flight planning route , time of sunset , … ) and the list of phone calls required for the flight :
- To the heliport to inform time of T.O. and to check if fuel is available ,
- To the fuel station at LGZA to be sure that fuel is available ,
- To LGZA Airport authority due to a NOTAM for PPR ,
- To LGTG TWR to file the FLP ( Kiourka heliport is within LGTG TMA ) ,
- To the met office in Spata to check the latest weather ,
- To my co-pilot for the T.O. time and ,
- To my passengers to confirmed that every thing was set .
I thought that it would be a normal and no event flight , the weather was good , the performances well below max , plenty of time before sunset and plenty of fuel .
I had filed a route as straight as possible ( Kiourka Heliport – ABLON – N.of Alkionides – then after Athens TMA corner direct to LGZA ) avoiding Athens TMA .
For me it was a logical , efficient and legal way to go to LGZA .
I realized later that I made a big mistake .
After T.O. , contact was made with LGTG TWR and Athens Info giving them all the details of the flight : type of flight ( VFR ) , Place of Departure and arrival , estimate of arrival , routes with estimated over reporting points , transponder 7000 ,….. ( some time I am wondering why do we file a flight plan if it is to repeat each time the same information ) .
We climbed at 6.500 ft and enjoyed a beautiful day .
I tried to contact Adravida Approach about 40 nm out , and before getting into the Adravida TMA , but with no success due to the surrounding mountain ( by experience , I know that you need to be at around 8.000 ft to establish contact in that mountainous region ) . But we are in Greece , the TMAs are covering such a big volume of airspace and there are so many places at low altitudes which are not covered by radio signal that we have the habit ( good or bad ) to establish contact as soon as practical , knowing that no IFR flights would not be allowed in those areas at those altitudes ( close to the mountains ) and the responsibility for separation between two VFR flights is always on the PIC .
My second mistake of the day , I should have established two way radio communication BEFORE entering Adravida TMA ( I do not know how to do that in Greece with all the mountains but this is the rules ) .
As a result , when we eventually manage to contact Adravida APP at around 20 nm west and just clearing the last mountain , the controller was not happy that we showed up like that , without any warning from the East .
He started to make remarks on the radio that it was not the way , for VFR flights , to show up like that without warning and to enter Adravida TMA and to go to LGZA , that I was conflicting with IFR traffic .
I just acknowledge and asked him if he wanted us to deviate or change our altitude to avoid any traffic , and the answer was “No , continue direct to LGZA and maintain 6.500 ft” . I just acknowledged again .
I recon that Adravida APP is responsible to provide controlling services to civil traffic coming in and going out of Kefalinia ( LGKF ) , Zakinthos ( LGZA ) and Adravida airport ( LGAD ) , but also to the military airport of Adravida ( LGAD ) and Araxos ( LGRX ) which is a combination of civil IFR flights and VFR civil/military flights , but I thought that Athens Info would have informed them that we were coming and of the details of our flight and that the APP would be using the radar to monitor our flight .
That was an other mistake , based on the controller remarks .
At about 20 nm from LGZA , I requested to start the descent for landing , to have a nice-for-the-passengers-ears descent of -500 ft on the VSI and a more efficient continuous decent .
The answer was “Negative , maintain 6.500 ft until 5 nm from LGZA and then contact LGZA TWR” .
The result was a circling descent over LGZA during 7 minutes . So much for the efficiency .
During our 20 minutes contact with Adravida APP , I was monitoring my TCAS and the APP / TWR frequency , and we saw / heard 4 IFR flights and 2 VFR .
For sure I did not had a complete picture of the situation , hand maybe on the military frequency , the APP controller had 25 aircrafts doing dog fighting , firefighting or other exercises and for that reason he made the initial remarks on the radio and could not safely drop us down sooner .
As you remember on the ICAO definition , Prevention of Collision between aircrafts comes before Expediting the flow of Air Traffic .
When we arrived at the apron , we saw the big parking area ( 150 x 550 meters ) completely empty and 3 persons plus the marshaler waiting for us on the designated spot .
After shutting down , I send my co-pilot for FPL and I stayed for refuel and take care of the passengers . The personnel on the ground came to me and asked me which Ground Handler did we ordered to take care of us .
I realized that I had forgot to make the 8th phone call to the Ground Handling agent . My mistake again . Sorry .
After refueling , and preflight , my co-pilot came back from the TWR where he had filed the flight plan for the return , and informed me that the TWR controller did not accept the same direct route but instead to follow the VFR routes of Adravida TMA to the North .
I look at him with a surprise and asked “which VFR route ?” , he told me that the controller said that if we did not have them , he could get a copy . He knew that we had the Bottlang of Greece on board and said no thanks . After checking the Bottlang, we could not find any VFR routes published for the Adravida TMA ( actually , Adravida is not on the Bottlang , period . No information on the TMA neither as airport diagram/frequencies ) . I remembered checking the AIP not long ago , and did not remember any published VFR routes for Adravida TMA .
I thought that it was not a real problem , we were a VFR flight , and if for any IFR and or Military traffic avoidance , we needed to divert our route , there are plenty of altitude choices ( from 500 ft up to 7.500 ft and plenty of landmarks to define our route .
So I request start –up permission and asked if we could have a direct route to the East .
After start-up permission received and engines fired , the controller came back and asked me if I was familiar with the VFR routes of Adravida TMA ?
I answered “negative , we looked in the Bottlang and did not find them” .
She answered “ Stand by” .
After 5 minutes on the ground , engine running and passenger on board , I came back on the frequency and ask the length and the reason for the delay .
The answer was : “ I asked you if you were familiar with the VFR routes , and you said yes when you filled the FPL , now you said no , so stand by” . I looked at my co-pilot , not understanding this type of attitude from an Air Traffic Controller .
To try to unblock the situation , my co-pilot remembered that he had a Military IAP (MAIP) in his bag and check if he could find any info .
We finally found those VFR routes , only published on the MAIP , so not for civil aircraft .
So I came back on the frequency and said that we have found the VFR routes .
Her answer was “Stand by” .
After 15 minutes with the engines running , and came back and asked what was the problem the answer was again “Stand by , I need to coordinate with Adravida APP because you are not familiar with the VFR routes” .
I said for a second time that “we have found them and that if we did not T.O. soon , I will have a fuel problem” , the answer was again “Stand by” .
She let us take-off after 20 minutes on the ground , engines running , for a Northbound heading toward Kefalonia , then Military VFR route was through KEFAL – OXIA – RION at 1.500 ft when I had requested 7.500 ft .
When I switched to the Adravida APP frequency , I requested again if I could have a more direct route and / or higher altitude , and the answer was “Negative , follow VFR routes at 1.500 ft” .
As a result , I had a 20 minutes delay on the ground with engine running , a 30 nm deviation of my planned route ( 15 minutes of flight more than the planned time ) and an altitude where my fuel consumption is higher than planned , and all that to follow a procedure which is not published in the Civil AIP Greece .
During the 20 minutes on the Adravida APP frequency , we monitored the TCAS and the frequency , and we saw / heard 5 IFR traffic and none VFR , but again I did not had a complete picture of the situation , and maybe on the military frequency , the APP controller had an other 55 aircrafts doing dog fighting , firefighting or other exercises ,without transponder on and out of visual range , and for that reason he could not safely give us a more direct route and a more efficient altitude .
Lucky me I had enough fuel ( no refueling station between LGZA and Kiourka Heliport after 17.00 ) , lucky me I had my co-pilot with a Military AIP forgotten in his bag , lucky me that we had plenty of time before sunset and lucky me that my passenger stayed calm and did not asked too many questions for this lengthily delay .
Otherwise , this flight could have become an even more complicated , difficult and stressful one .
I guess that the word “Expedite” in the definition of ATCS was just erased from those controllers ( as much as the words “efficiency” , “straight line” and “helpful” ) .
During this flight , as a PIC of the aircraft , I made some mistakes , and in the process of becoming a better pilot , I recognized them and I will try to correct them ( now I put on my “before leaving home” check-list : 8 . Call Ground Handling Agent if landing is on an airport ) .
4 days later , I had to do exactly the same flight back to pick-up the passenger from Zakinthos .
This time I did not forgot the 8th phone call to the ground handling agent .
When my co-pilot arrived at the heliport , he asked me with a smile “ So what route did you filed ?”
I said “the only legal that I know and I could found in the AIP Greece : Avoid Athens TMA and then straight line to LGZA” .
He was surprised , and asked me if I believed , after the last flight , that we are going to go that way . I said “let’s try again , we will see . We have fuel and time .”
So , here we go again , same route , with the only difference of the altitude , we climbed at 8.500 ft ( VFR Altitude ) just after Tanagra TMA .
We had to repeat again all the details of the flight to Tanagra controller and to Athens Info controller , but this time , the latest one asked us three time “what type of aircraft are you ?” .
I guess that they are not used to see helicopters at that altitude .
When we arrived just before the Adravida TMA boundary ( 40 nm East of LGAD ) , my co-pilot looked at me with strange expression on his face , and said “ I would prefer if you do the radio communication” , so I contacted Adravida APP with position , altitude , destination and expected time of arrival . The answer was : “Adravida QNH is 1014 , report over KILIN” ( KILIN is a reporting point exactly on our straight route , found only on the Military AIP ) .
We looked at each other , wondering what or when will be the catch .
Just before KILIN , I asked for decent , again to have a nice-for-my-passenger-ear decent of -500 ft/min , the answer was : “clear to decent to 2.500 ft , report 5 nm East of LGZA” .
We descent nicely , reported over and changed frequency to LGZA TWR , and landed perfectly .
On the ground , only one ground agent was waiting this time , and I send again my co-pilot for flight plan and he asked me “ I guess that you want me to file the direct route ?” . I said “yes , maybe it is our lucky day today .”
He came back , “It is indeed our lucky day today , the man in the tower was very helpful , accepted the direct route , and said he will coordinate with Adravida .”
We took-off on time , were cleared as filed , climbed to 9.500 ft to pass over some cumulus layers over the mountains region and enjoyed a magnificent view of a mixed of clear sky , different layers of cumulus and stratus cloud and a sunset giving many different colors and shadows .
It was a beautiful flight , with nice support from all the controllers , and we could all go back home with the nice feeling of having done our job well , efficiently and safely .
When I asked my co-pilot “So , if next time you have to go back to LGZA by yourself , and , let say that you are restricted on your fuel due to payload , what route are you going to file ? The direct route with all your passengers , or the Military VFR route with one passenger less ?” , he looked at me puzzled and said “ I really do not know ?” .
He said “both round trip were very instructive , but I am a little bit confused as to what to do next time” .
He was right , both of us learned lessons , but some basic questions also came up regarding the way Greek ATC system works :
1 . If a FPL is mandatory for each flight within the Greek FIR ( which is not the case in other countries like France , UK or USA ) , why the information on it are not properly dispatch to ALL the concerned ATC units and if it is done , why do we have to repeat so many times this very same information ( Place of departure , place of arrival , time , ETE , ETA , …. ) to each new ATC units ?
2 . Why Greece is one of the only country in Europe without a proper VFR chart edition , where all the VFR users ( pilots and controllers ) would have the same information to work with , to make our live easier and safer ?
We still use American / UK VFR charts ONC or TPC , latest edition between 1984 and 2000 for the VFR flight planning and navigation ( they still have Helinikon as primary airport for Athens , which do not have any information on radio frequencies , TMAs , VFR routes , are completely out-of-date regarding the restricted and danger areas , the obstacles , …. ) .
For some of those information missing we need to have a Bottlang , but because in it you will not find most of the Military airport information/frequencies/TMA , we need to go to the AIP .
For those who do not see what I mean , just have a look at a JEPPESEN VFR chart of France , Portugal or Bulgaria or Croatia , or at any of the American VFR chart ( ONC or TPC or Terminal or Helicopter routes ) covering the US .
Is it safe to flight in a country which do not provide one of the very basic tool for VFR flight : clock , compass and chart ? For those of us who are flying in Greece for a long time , we have developed knowledge of the Greek FIR and landscape based on our experience , but for new pilots or foreign pilots coming for the first time , it is always full of surprises .
3 . Greece has made an airspace organization which is not practical for the users : 80% of the airspace is covered by TMA , most of them military ( so not mentioned in the civil publications ) and starting from 1.000 AGL or MSL up to FL245 , which implies that they provide Air Traffic Control within them .
But to be able to provide control , you need two-way radio communication , if you do not have two-way radio communication , what type of control can you provide or apply ?
So if one wants to have control in a mountainous area at low altitude , the system should provide the adequate ground equipment ( radio relays ) to cover those areas ( actually volume of airspace ) .
What is the point to say that Athens TMA goes until VELOP and down to 1.000 ft MSL when it is not possible or very difficult to communicate around Porto-Heli / Ermioni / Nafplio below 2.000 ft ?
Same thing when you are flying on the East side of Evia , Amfiklia , Amfissa or Atalandi below 2.000 ft , it is impossible to contact Tanagra TWR/APP .
Or the other solution ( and to my point of view , the more logic , easy to implement and economic ) would be to raise the bottom of each TMA ( the lower limits ) to the lowest altitude where two-way radio communication can be established .
Underneath , it would be uncontrolled airspace ( which is actually today , because you can not provide control ) .
It would not be a problem with the IFR flights , because the same obstacles preventing two-way communication ( mountains ) are defining the lower level of IFR flights ( at least 2.000 ft above the highest obstacle for the Minimum IFR Altitude ) . And if some one looks at the IFR charts and procedures , the Minimums Safe Altitude for the IFR flight are : around Porto-Heli / Nafplio / VELOP between 6.000 and 8.500 ft , for Korithos area 7.000 ft and around Karistos 6.500 ft , for Araxos MSA on the East part is 10.000 ft .
Some in the HCAA will provide a third solution : do not flight in those regions .
( If you have an headache , just cut the head and you solved the problem ) .
4 . If Adravida Military VFR routes and military VFR reporting points are so important ( like the other Military VFR routes in other Military TMAs ) , why are they not published in the Civil AIP ?
If they are not so important for civil traffic , why does the controllers use them with civil traffic and provide a source of confusion and frustration .
5 . Why some controllers still do not understand that the straight line is the best way for an aircraft to go from A to B , unless serious reason exist to deviate ( traffic , weather , obstruction , …. ) ?
6 . Why some controllers still do not understand that the reason they exist is to support and help pilots doing they job ( flying ) easier , better and safer and not the other way around ?
And that the aeronautical radio frequencies are very important tools for the safety of the flights and that remarks , comments , sarcasm and teaching lessons or other should never be eared on the frequency .
If something as to be elaborate , just ask for name and phone number of the PIC ( which is an information we give each time when filing a flight plan ) , and/or ask the pilot to call the TWR/APP after landing .
When a pilot is up in the air , he evolves in a really small cockpit environment and put his live integrity in line , he is affected by many different factors ( noise , stress , bad weather , getting lost or just the feeling of it , bad vibration , passengers , …) which can influenced his emotional condition and his way of expression and his decisions .
Nothing to do with the controlled and stable environment of a control tower or a radar control room .
The pilot’s community is a mix of new pilots , old pilots , solo student pilots , recreational pilots , professional pilots , experienced pilots and airline pilots , so we have a melting-pot of level in knowledge , procedure standardization and professionalism .
But all controllers are professional and well trained ( to my knowledge , there is no recreational or solo student traffic controller ) , so the average level of professionalism of the controllers should be well above the level of the average pilots .
During flight , only positive attitude and support should be used to facilitate the job of the pilot to conduct a safe and efficient flight and it should be a common goal between pilots and controllers .
After the flight , and when engine has stop , start the screaming , the remarks , the lessons or the incident / illegal action report .
When we are on the ground , our live is not in danger anymore, safety of the flight is not at risk anymore and anything can be discussed .